What Causes Leg Cramps and How to Prevent Them
If you’re like me, you have had leg cramps, or muscle spasms, at some point in your life. You may have even woken up in the middle of the night with a “charley horse” in your leg that was extremely painful and paralyzing. Sometimes it is so uncomfortable, it feels almost impossible to get out of bed to stretch it and try to relieve it. Leg cramps occur when the leg muscles contract. They most often occur in your gastrocnemius muscle, although they can occur in any muscle in your body. After the muscle stops contracting, it can often leave your muscle feeling sore for a few days, depending on the severity of the spasm.
Many things can cause leg cramps, but they are often preventable and treatable at home. If you experience them regularly, you may want to seek a health professional to ensure you don’t have an underlying health condition causing the frequent cramping. There are a few common causes of leg cramps which I will share, along with suggestions for prevention and relief.
The first thing we need to look at when addressing leg cramps is how much water you are drinking daily. Most times when asked, people will say “not as much as I should.” Water is a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to cramps. If an individual is not getting enough water, it can cause dehydration and imbalances in your body’s electrolyte balance, which will cause cramps.
When I say water, I mean water, not any liquid. Many people will drink soda, tea, or coffee and think that it counts as water because it’s liquid, but it doesn’t. Coffee, tea, and soda can actually dehydrate you, which can cause cramps. The same applies to alcohol as well. There are many different opinions on how much water you should be drinking every day.
Health authorities commonly recommend eight 8-ounce glasses, which equals about 2 liters, or half a gallon. This is called the 8×8 rule, and it is very easy to remember. This, of course, is a simplified version and not for everyone. It could be more or less depending on what factors an individual may be dealing with, such as kidney or heart issues. Some health experts recommend half your body weight in water. In general, you should drink at least 64 ounces each day if you have a more sedentary lifestyle, but more if you are exercising or sweating a lot.
If you do require more water than the average person, be sure you are drinking water with natural electrolytes, including potassium, magnesium, sodium, and other minerals, to restore them in your body. It is possible to drink so much water that you flush out the natural electrolytes in your body. This is why it is essential to drink a portion of your water with added electrolytes or include more nutrient-rich foods that also contain these minerals naturally.
To add electrolytes to your water, add lemon or lime juice and Himalayan Pink Salt to your water. Himalayan Pink Salt has 84 trace minerals which will help replenish your body with minerals that you may be sweating out. Although there are some sports drinks on the market to help restore electrolytes in your body, they also contain a high amount of processed sugar which is not ideal. If you want your electrolyte water sweet, you can add unsweetened coconut water or raw honey.
Here is a simple electrolyte drink recipe for you to try:
- 1 cup of unsweetened coconut water
- 1 cup of filtered water
- 1 tablespoon raw honey (optional)
- Juice of 1 lemon or 1.5 limes
- 1/8 teaspoon Himalayan Pink Salt
Mix all the ingredients in a large mason jar. Refrigerate to chill before drinking.
2. Magnesium Deficiency
Another reason you could be experiencing cramps is due to a lack of magnesium in your body. Most of us are deficient in magnesium and don’t even realize it. If you think you may have a magnesium deficiency, read our post on 5 Signs You May Have a Magnesium Deficiency.
Once you start getting the appropriate amount of magnesium, a whole host of issues may start resolving themselves. Magnesium has been shown to help with blood sugar regulation. Magnesium acts as a relaxant in the body. When you start taking it or consuming more foods high in magnesium, you may notice you’re sleeping better because you’re more relaxed. Magnesium relaxes muscles, which can help with those pesky cramps that we’ve been mentioning. While magnesium can relax the muscles causing the cramps, they can also relax smooth muscle, which can cause diarrhea. It’s best to consume foods high in magnesium versus taking a supplement, but if you have to supplement, don’t overdo it or you may experience relaxed bowels.
10 Magnesium-Rich Foods
- Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale
- Nuts such as cashews, brazil nuts, and almonds
- Legumes, especially black beans
- Pumpkin seeds
- Fatty fish such as salmon
- Dark Chocolate (opt for high cocoa percentage and low sugar)
- Peanut butter (opt for one that is natural with zero added sugar)
3. Overuse of Muscles During Exercise
Sometimes leg cramps or muscle spasms in your legs can be caused by overusing the muscles in your legs during exercise. If overuse is the cause, specific stretches and massages can help the muscle from contracting. Heat and ice may both be used in the treatment also. The heat will help the muscle relax while the ice will help numb the pain.
Leg cramps most commonly affect athletes, older people, obese people, anyone taking statins or diuretics, and anyone who smokes. If you have frequent leg cramps (a few times a week or more) and have tried the above tips to relieve the leg spasms, you may have a compressed nerve. It is best to see a health professional to get further diagnosis and treatment.